December 2011 Preview: Hands on with Downpour (New Screens!) and Book of Memories

Posted By: Whitney   January 4th, 2012 | 12:00 am

Early in December I attended a Konami press event in San Fransisco and had the opportunity to try Silent Hill Downpour, Silent Hill Book of Memories and the HD Collection and talk with Silent Hill producer Tomm Hulett. I already played through most of the HD Collection back in September so I used my time to play-through Downpour and briefly try Book of Memories. Unfortunately, unlike my Downpour hands on preview last September, I could not record myself playing so no accompanying video preview this time around!


Lots of fun!

Silent Hill Downpour


Long time no see Murphy. I promise not to talk over you so much while I play this time around. Or make you do stupid things like flush toilets or throw your weapon at birds…Really! Stop looking at me like that please!

Presentation

At the beginning of the event Tomm Hulett played a few choice spots in Downpour to show the group some scenes within the town proper. From what I saw I was really impressed. The town looked like a really detailed Silent Hill just with some slight European influences in some of the structures. It was abandoned, foggy, old and run down in areas but it also looked lived in which I felt was sorely lacking in the town’s first foray on the next generation systems with Silent Hill Homecoming.

While he played Tomm repeated some game features many of us fans know by now such as Downpour being set in a whole new area of Silent Hill but he confirmed that there’s overlap in one previous area from a past game but couldn’t tell us where at this time. I believe this overlap will involve the Overlook Penitentiary from Homecoming given that we’ve heard in the past interviews with the developers that Downpour is supposed to retcon the prison’s original location within the town.


Silent Hill

Downpour’s weather system was also expanded upon: the harder it rains, the more creatures there are so it’s a good idea to get inside if you can when the weather turns ugly. Unlike Shattered Memories, where you were only in danger within the nightmare ice world, there’s never a time in Downpour you will automatically feel completely safe. Even in little to no rain Murphy can still be attacked!

The side quest feature was also briefly demonstrated and Tomm used this to explain how the puzzle difficulty settings effect Downpour’s gameplay. In the demonstration Murphy entered an apartment building and found a note attached to one of the doors. It was a addressed to a thief who apparently lived in the building and threatened to kill her/him if they stole any more of the author’s stuff. Behind the door there was a man hanging from a noose (which I assumed was the thief) and a pile of random items Murphy could pick up and examine. When the objects were collected an objective popped up on the screen with clues that suggested the player should return the stolen property to complete the side quest. According to Tomm the puzzle level difficulty you choose will change just how helpful the prompts are for side quests, for example, instead of a prompt that encourages you to return stolen items found in the thief’s apartment you would simply find a note accusing someone of being a thief and then a box of stolen property. It would be up to you to put two and two together and figure out what you had to do. I thought it was pretty cool that the puzzle difficulty setting not only changes how hard obvious plot related puzzles are in the game but will also make finding and figuring out how to solve the additional quests that much harder as well.

My Second Playthrough

After the presentation we were given the okay to play Downpour, luckily I had snagged a seat at an Xbox 360 before the presentation started (there were only two in the room and the rest were PS3s). We could play the game from the beginning and could play up to Murphy reaching the town. Unfortunately, I only made it to the point right before the Latino prisoner is killer by a Screamer before I had to hand off the controller to someone else. I didn’t get very far but I saw that others around the room were way ahead of me in varying stages within the mines and some even made it to the town by the end of the event. I’m a pretty slow player anyway but I place the blame for not getting farther in my own play-through on spending waaay too much time on Downpour’s start screen scoping out all the menu options!

A Detailed look at Downpour’s Menu Options

There are a lot of ways you can configure your Downpour game play experience that I think will make many fans who were worried about their game immersion very happy. You can not only turn off the action prompts (press (A) (B) etc) but you can also remove that sheen effect on all the objects/weapons you can interact with! From message board discussions and youtube comments on previous gameplay videos I know that the sheen was a big issue with a lot of fans so I’m happy we definitely have the option to turn it on and off!

Here’s a full configuration menu on my Xbox 360 demo:

CONFIGURATION OPTIONS

· Invert look X and look Y axis
· Subtitles (on/off)
· Action Prompts – display action prompts on the screen for easy and normal puzzle difficulties
· Tutorial Hints – display tutorial hints on screen
· Object Highlighting - highlight items and interactive objects
· Standard Display Options (lightness, contrast, etc.)


I did a Carlton Dance in my head after seeing all those config options.

Next was an “EXTRAS” menu option that gave detailed statistics about your current game – sort of like the results screen in previous games but on steroids! It broke down how many objects were collected by type, how many puzzles you solved, the distances covered walking, running, sliding, and falling (yikes!). It even tells you how much time you spend in Real world vs Other world, in your diary, in your inventory, or reading books. Additionally, there were a “Credits” sub menu that scrolled the game’s credits and two locked menus called “Gallery” and “Collectibles.” I’m not sure what those were about but my interest sure was piqued!

Here’s the entire Extras menu:

EXTRAS

Statistics
· Game Progress (as a percent)
· Number of sidequests completed
· Total Time in Game

    - Real world
    – Otherworld
    – Diary
    – Inventory
    – Books

· Total Distance Covered (kilometers)

    – Walking
    – Running
    – Falling
    – Sliding

· Number of Puzzles Solved
· Number of Objects Collected

    - Mysteries
    – Items
    – Gadgets
    – Maps
    – First aid kits
    – Weapons
    – Ammo

· Number of Items Used
· Time Spent Using Gadgets

    - Lighter
    – Flashlight
    – UV light

· Number of Weapons Destroyed

    - Firearms
    – Melee

Credits – plays game credits
Gallery – locked initially
Collectibles – locked initially

Changes from my play-through back in September

I started my game on with on a Normal Action/Puzzle Difficulty and through my short stint playing during the event I noticed some changes from my first play-through from back in September. The bugs Cj and I had encountered (like the flashlight not working) were thankfully fixed and other items were moved or missing. For example, in our earlier play-through we came across a radio in the Devil’s Pit hotel office that played a song dedication from DJ Ricks to Murphy. This time around the radio was nowhere to be found. I asked Tomm about it and he said the development team is still tweeking the placement of things so even though the radio wasn’t in the office anymore Murphy will still come across it and the song dedication later in the game.

Side Quests and Puzzle Difficulty

Since I knew Cj and I bypassed a side quest involving a key we picked up on a table during our first play-through I made sure to investigate further in the Devil’s Pitstop this time to see what the key would unlock. The key unlocked a set of rooms on the second floor and one held a safe with multiple combination dials. At this point I had no idea what the combination was but I was sure I would come across it somewhere upstairs. In one of the rooms Murphy made a comment on a broken coffee maker sitting on a window ledge. I didn’t think much of the coffee maker until I picked up a coffee maker power cord in another room. Random objects revealing codes is nothing new in the Silent Hill series so I was pretty sure by this point the coffee maker would lead me to the code I needed for the safe. I returned to the room with the coffee maker and used the power cord, turned the machine on and wrote down the combination revealed on the steamed up window.

With the combination in hand I returned to the safe eager to reap my rewards but I soon found that having the combination code was only half the battle. I really wish Cj and I were able to show this in our earlier play-through as it really does give a better idea about the difficulty and types of puzzles you can expect.

Turns out I couldn’t just turn all the dials to the the correct combo number as that would have been way too easy. Instead I could only physically set two of them by hand while the others I previously set would move on me again every other number and in different directions when I turned the final dial. It was rather tricky figuring out what positions I had to have the other two dials in so when I set the final dial the correct number on the others would line up. The prize, a pistol, was well worth the effort of the side quest, and from spying on other players around the room it didn’t look like anyone else had taken the time to find it.


Look I’m sorry I called your Mama ugly!

I was kicked off shortly after finding the pistol to give some one else a chance to play. After half an hour some other people had left so I was able to pick up someone else’s game somewhere within the Devil’s Pit Mines on a PS3. I experienced some combat with Weeping Bats (they are huge), encountered a funny bug in which the Weeping Bat kept backing away from Murphy after I blocked, and solved two more puzzles both of which were challenging (it didn’t help that I had no idea where I was and what clues the person before me may have picked up along the way). One puzzle involved moving sluices to open a door but soon after I solved the puzzle the PS3 I was playing on crashed on me. I was forced to scoot over to a different machine which was left at an entirely different portion of mine. On the new machine I had to figure out how to activate a “mine car ride” similar to Disneyland’s The Pirates of the Caribbean by hitting buttons on the control in the correct order. I backtracked a bit and was able to find a child’s poem attached to a dead body that talked about colors of mountains. With this note in hand I was able to deduce that the colors in the poem corresponded with the colors of the buttons on the panel to start the ride.

Now for something a little creepy

With the ride now running I hopped in and Murphy was immediately moved down the tracks as a pre-recorded tour guide gave him a run down of Silent Hill’s mining past. I learned that the Gillespie family apparently had something to do with starting the mine back in the 1800’s…it looks like members of the family have been a residents of Silent Hill for quite a long time!

During the history lesson the cars stopped briefly at a mining display with several shadowed mannequins in mining gear and tools posed as if they were working. As the tour guide continued on about the mining history the Otherworld started to creep in. Lights flashed on and off and to my horror every time the lights came back on the miner mannequins moved closer and closer to the cart Murphy was sitting in with their weapons raised. I was convinced the miners would warp into Weeping Bats or something and I would be forced to fight for my life… but it turns out Silent Hill just wanted to fuck with me and just before they were on top of Murphy everything turned back to normal with everyone back in their original positions and the ride continued on. Unfortunately I didn’t see what other horrors were waiting for Murphy behind the next corner because I was informed the event was shutting down.

Xbox 360 Vs PS3

After playing Downpour on both systems I have to say that the Xbox 360 version looks graphically better than the PS3. I’m not sure if this is because the PS3 demos at the event were an older build or what but the game looked much more polished to me (better than the screens below that for sure!) on the Xbox 360 demo. So if I had to make a choice about which version to play based on my experience at the event I would definitely recommend the Xbox 360 over the PS3 Downpour.

Needless to say my second play-through of Downpour has me even more excited to play. March really can’t come soon enough in my opinion!

Some new screens! (PS3, January 2012)

Book of Memories


Trying to fix your life using a creepy book? I wouldn’t recommend it.

Since there was only one Vita at this event I did not have a lot of time to really sit down and play Book of Memories like I did with Downpour. Since the event was technically over by this point Tomm allowed me to play the game from the beginning (everyone else just experienced a level later in the game) which was awesome! Tomm unfortunately couldn’t stay long and walk me through it however since someone needed a last minute interview… So I ended up playing blind not knowing what I was doing or the Vita controls as there was no on screen tutorial in the beginning of the game yet. Haha just my luck!

At the start of the new game I was asked to pick from a number of silhouetted charms (I picked something that looked like a heart) and was then brought into the character creation section. There I typed in a name, picked the sex, type (jock, nerd etc) and look of my character. Once this was completed I saw the opening cinematic narrated by my character, which was and was pretty short and sweet:

One day Howard Blackwood, the mysterious postmaster from both Downpour and Past Life, came to my character’s front door with a package postmarked from Silent Hill. Inside the package there was a large book that contained record of my character’s entire life and her memories. On this discovery my character got the crazy idea to alter the text inside in the hope it would change the direction her life was going for the better (big mistake). Soon after she fell asleep found herself in a nightmarish Otherworld.


Thanks for the deathtrap Howard…

The first stage of Book of Memories (A vividly orange world with grated floors and fire) began with a text mission objective from Valtiel to pick up a number of chess pieces and two childhood items in the area. After Valtiel disappeared the stage official started. I had no weapons on my person, but thankfully I didn’t need a map as there was a GPS map on the lower left corner of the screen that I could follow. The level was laid out in a grid and the GPS would automatically draw out each new room as I ran through. Each room in the level was connected by a door or a walkway and I’m not sure if this is true for all levels but underneath it all was a lake of fire. Overall the level reminded me of both Silent Hill and the Hell Descent Otherworld from Silent Hill Homecoming though much brighter and on the cartoony side.

I ran around a bit hoping I wouldn’t encounter any monsters and soon found an item/weapon shop with Howard behind the counter. His appearance was unexpected by both me and my character and he seemed to know more about my situation then he was letting on. Before I bid Howard adieu I purchased a steel pipe (a Silent Hill staple!) so I was armed and continued on looking for anything that could be a childhood item or a chess piece. I found a few items, encountered a static television that played a conversation from my character’s past, did battle with nurses and groaners (kicked major ass with my pipe) and I even met up with Valtiel again who rewarded me with a ceremonial knife for the childhood items I found.


Thanks for the knife Valtiel!

I unfortunately didn’t get very far into the game before I had to hand it off to the person who had just interviewed Tomm, but I had a lot of fun playing and I was definitely intrigued by the story I saw so far.

Since my time with the title was so short and I ran through it blind Tomm was nice enough to answer some of my questions via email after the event:

Silent Hill Historical Society: Daniel Licht returns to do the score and Mary Elizabeth sings the theme isn’t that correct?

Tomm Hulett: Yes, Dan Licht created most of the music in BoM, and Mary sings vocals on 2 songs. For any details beyond that you’ll need to wait and play the game :)

SHHS: I picked a card(?) with a heart in the very beginning before I created my character. You mentioned this particular feature wasn’t currently working in this build and I was wondering if you could go into how it contributes to the creation of the character? Is it similar to Kingdom Hearts in which up front you are asked which you prefer a Keyblade, Shield or Magic Rod and depending on what you choose it determines Sora’s strength and weakness in combat (physical, magical and defense)? Will what shape you choose will determine a strength in a certain stat?

Tomm Hulett: There are a number of “charms”, and you pick one at the start of the game. They appear as silhouettes, so it’s not exactly clear to the player what she is selecting, exactly. We wanted it to be subconscious, like a Rorschach test, rather than something like Kingdom Hearts where you are clearly deciding “I want to play a melee attack game”. These charms provide a small permanent stat boost to your character.

SHHS: Speaking of character creations/stats, you mentioned that certain character types carry different sort of stats, like the jocks are stronger physically, the nerd has higher Karma? Is that correct?

Tomm Hulett: Our stat system in general is similar to games like Shin MegaTen, where you receive “points” at level up, and you can assign them however you want. So regardless of the charm and character class selected, players have plenty of room to craft the exact character that fits their play style. Where the classes differ is their equipment slots.

Obviously as you level up, you get more slots to equip artifacts that will have an effect on your stats. Now, each equipment slot has a specific stat alignment–these differ per class. So my Jock might have two “STRENGTH” slots. If I equip an “Agility” artifact in those slots, it has its normal effect on my agility. But, if I assign a Strength artifact, its effect will be boosted.

SHHS: I overheard in your interview with Games Radar during the event that you guys are exploring the theme of dreams with Book of Memories. Since dreams are random you guys had the idea to implement random generated dungeons. Does this mean every time you play you’ll experience a randomized dungeon level or are the map layouts just randomized? I saw that the guy who played after me had a different looking level and I thought he restarted from the beginning. Was this just because the levels are randomized or did this have if have to do somehow with his character choice?

Tomm Hulett:Yes, the gameplay portions of BoM take place in your character’s Nightmares. We thought a lot about what dreams are like when creating our gameplay, storyline, and visuals. One aspect is the randomness of dreams. The layout of each “Zone” will be different every time you play, creating a sort of random dungeon crawler feeling. (Though our initial Zone is always the same, so we can tutorialize things properly).

Naturally this is Silent Hill, so when we say “Nightmares” we really mean a kind of transportation to the Otherworld. We have a variety of different Otherworlds for the player to explore, and in the “Story” portion of the game, these occur in a set order. You always begin in the “Fire” world, and then go in order. However, once players complete the Story they will be thrust into an endless Nightmare, where the Otherworlds you encounter are chosen at random.

SHHS You can hold a melee and and firearm at the same time but is it possible to stockpile weapons? As I recall I had bought the pipe from Howard and was rewarded with a knife from Valtiel for finding two childhood items (I was still looking for chess pieces) but when I taped on the knife my character dropped the pipe she was holding and equipped the knife but I’m not certain if that was because I can only hold onto one melee weapon at a time or just me just not knowing the Vita controls.

Tomm Hulett: Initially, the size of your character’s backpack is limited. It basically only holds a few health packs, a toolkit, and limited ammo. Your weapon inventory as such is identical to Downpour: what you hold in your hands. However, Howard sells Backpack upgrades, which will increase the number of items you can hold, and also allow for a weapon or two. Players can then hold on to key weapons for big encounters, and cycle through what’s available while exploring.

SHHS We talked briefly about the the Karma (magic) powers at the event, though I never really used them at the time, called Light (healing) and Blood (attack). If you kill Blood enemies it will increase your Light Karma and the opposite is true to increase the Blood Karma. Could you expand on this?

Tomm Hulett: Your character has a meter at the top of the screen keeping track of their Karma. The two possible Karmas are “Light” and “Blood” – the same holding true for enemies. As you kill enemies of one alignment, your karma grows toward the opposite alignment. Once it’s far enough to one side, you can perform a “Karma Ability” – which are the huge flashy techniques some have been referring to as “Magic”. This will be a key strategic component in multiplayer, as you don’t want to work against your allies – you’ll want to divy up the Light/Blood karma assignments to ensure you have a broad spectrum of options available.

The creatures you encounter have a third karmic alignment: Steel. Steel enemies are larger, tougher, and don’t have an obvious weakness.

SHHS When I played Valtiel appeared and gave the level objectives he seemed to me to play the role of guide in this game. Would that be an accurate description of his role in this game?

Tomm Hulett: Valtiel is a very elusive character in general, and we wanted to keep that quality in Book of Memories. He does appear at the beginning of each Zone to issue an optional Mission to the player(s). If the player chooses to complete this, he’ll be waiting near the exit to reward them. Obviously some of these Missions will be incredibly hard, so they are not required in any way. However, players will get pretty sweet loot if they’re able to satisfy Valtiel’s request.

I’m not sure I’d classify him as a “guide” though, seeing as he doesn’t speak. Howard has a lot more to say on the subject of what exactly is going on.

SHHS: I overheard you mention that the backstory of the characters are only told through televisions and notes in game is this correct? I wasn’t sure if I just misheard but I remember while playing I had turned on a static tv and heard past conversation with a coworker at my character’s new job.

Tomm Hulett: There are cutscenes near the start of the game to set everything up, and of course there are several different endings, but the bulk of the story is told in-game via notes that you find and television broadcasts you overhear. This, again, is part of our “dreams” theme – where you’ll get snippets of information that don’t necessarily mean anything unless you stop to think about them and how they all fit together.

Since the Book of Memories allows you to alter your life, the way you play the game will also change the notes you receive (and ones you’ve already received). Players who want to achieve specific endings will need to study these notes and figure out how to manipulate the book for their ideal result. In a way, the story itself is one giant puzzle.

I wanted to create a story like this because one thing fans have been asking for in Silent Hill for years now are the mind-bending puzzles of the first few games, which relied on obscure knowledge or really careful attention (or hours of running them back and forth in your mind) to solve. At the same time, our gameplay needs to be fast to support multi-player–so the literal puzzles you encounter in each Zone can’t be TOO complex. By building a complex puzzle into the story, I hope to provide hardcore fans with a mystery to solve, that they can be puzzling over while they play.

SHHS: Can you explain the decision behind using enemies from past Silent Hill games (Groaners, Insane Cancers, Needlers, etc) instead of new creatures special to BoM?

Tomm Hulett: Silent Hill has a long and creepy list of baddies we’ve faced over the years. Unlike a Zelda or Mario, where you can trot the best ones back out year after year to excite players, SH’s creatures are locked in to the narrative where they appeared. Which is a shame, because it’s always nice to get to face down with an old enemy every so often. Since BoM deals with multiple Otherworlds, it made sense to make it a sort of “best of” experience and bring back the more memorable creatures from past Silent Hills.

SHHS: A lot of fans are worried that BoM will be a Silent Hill title in name only (kind of like those cell phone games) given it’s radical change in game play, the isometric view and the multi player element. Should it be considered a core game within the series canon or is it just another side game like Silent Hill: The Arcade?

Tomm Hulett: This is a tricky subject because the SH community has its own custom definition of what canon actually means, and this even varies by person or forum or whatnot. Yes, BoM fits into the canon: it follows rules and chronology established in the past games. We don’t alter existing character details (Play Novel, mobile games), we don’t violate the fundamental universe rules (some American comics), and we don’t give anybody enormous boobs (Japanese comics).

That said, BoM isn’t required reading in order to understand the next core installment. Nor is top-down action RPG gameplay the new direction of the series. Resident Evil does this sort of thing all the time and nobody bats an eye, but it seems a difficult concept for people to process when it says “Silent Hill” on the box. If it helps, try this: BoM is a spinoff title that takes place in the canon Silent Hill universe.

Now that I’ve given it a try, I’m actually pretty excited to play through Book of Memories. It may not have the looks and game play that I’ve come to know and love, but it definitely has the heart of a Silent Hill game and I’m really curious just how much I can ruin my character’s life with that book lol. The promise of “mind-bending” puzzles integrated within the actual plot of the game and the aspect of notes and puzzles changing based on how I play also has me excited about the possible amount of replay value.

After talking with Tomm a little more about Book of Memories the game definitely seems more “Silent Hill” than I was lead to believe based solely on screens and short clips posted online before the press event. I really like Tomm’s explanation that it’s a “spinoff title in the canon universe.” Hopefully this categorization will ease some worries fans have about this title and the direction of the Silent Hill series franchise – I know it eased my mind a bit!

I’m glad Konami is experimenting with new game play style in a side game: if the new elements Book of Memories brings to the table don’t quite pan out there’s no major repercussions…but as of right now it seems to me to be a fun game which is an excellent quality for any title. So if you are a Silent Hill fan and are going to purchase a Vita I definitely encourage you to give the game a whirl – I know I will in February!

Screens (October 2011)

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3 Responses to “December 2011 Preview: Hands on with Downpour (New Screens!) and Book of Memories”

  1. avatar Nekroido says:

    Thank you, Whitney!

  2. avatar Mike Sorge says:

    Thank you so much for this preview, Whitney! :) I can’t wait to play DOWNPOUR! :D